Nationals Baseball: Reality check

Friday, May 25, 2018

Reality check

Things haven't been as bad for the Nationals as you think

On the pitching front that's easy to see. No starter has missed a start. They've all at least pitched to their ability, and Hellickson has been unexpectedly good. Out of the "Big 3" only Madson has been on the DL and that's just recently.  This easily overcomes the "bad" of the Nats not finding the middle relief (again) from the bunch of middling players they throw out there.

On the offensive side it has been troubling but this talk of a AAA team? In my mind the AAA players are Difo, Keiboom, Stevenson, Sierra, Sanchez, and probably Goodwin. You might be saying Severino! I'll get to that in a second. So how many games did any three of these AAA players start at the same time? Two.  4/25 and 5/5 that's it.  They've have 2 AAA players in the line-up plenty of times but to me that's not a AAA team. That's your average major league team.

The Nats had injuries, yes, but the immediate back-up plans worked. Kendrick was solid before going down himself. Adams has been great. Reynolds has been great. Soto deserves a shot and fate has given it to him. It's enough that the Nats have been fine covering two injuries at anytime. Eaton and Rendon down? Eaton and Zimmerman? They can handle that. And let's not kid ourselves because of his slumping Zimm's injury only matters in terms of flexibility. Adams had to then play 1st - either to replace Zimm or to face a righty - so he couldn't play OF which meant Kendrick had to play OF which meant he couldn't play 2nd which meant Difo had to play 2nd.  And Weiters injury only matters if you thought he'd be appreciably better than Severino has been. I'd say most of you didn't think that (I did, but only because I thought Severino would have been awful rather than merely below average as he has been so far)

This is not to say the injuries haven't mattered. Like I said - it's a flexibility thing for the most part. They don't have flexibility to deal with slumping players. Zimm was terrible before? Too bad, gotta play.  MAT is terrible now? Too bad, gotta play. Severino is below average as expected? Too bad, gotta play. But this isn't the same as forcing a guy to play that you didn't want in there.

I'm rambling bu the point is this - the injuries to Murphy and Eaton and Rendon etc mattered but it didn't turn this squad into a .500 team because the starting pitching has been consistently very good, the back of the pen has been fine, and Rizzo did a good job on roster construction (outside of the pen).  Also - they got some luck so far (Adams should be ok, Reynolds who knows, you know I still don't buy Severino).  This is a team on an 88 win pace because as we've seen them this is an 88 win team. That tells you how good a healthy team would be - IF Eaton and Murphy hit like you thought they should - and it takes away any excuse about losing to bad team.  An 88 win team should still take 2 of 3 (minimum) from the likes of the Orioles and the Marlins away.  There is no excuses for these guys. If they don't do what they should to stay in it over the next couple weeks before guys start coming back it'll be because guys that should perform have not. It'll be because Rendon has been just ok and Zimm was bad when he was in there and MAT has been flat out terrible.  The guys that shouldn't perform are bringing them down to a WC contender - nothing more.


Robot said...

MAT may not be AAA because of the strong defense he provides, but his hitting isn't major-league level.

Harper said...

That's a different problem. Like Zimm, he's a guy they planned to play every day. Like Zimm being bad, Rendon only being ok, Bryce "only" being very good.

Andrew said...

It's true you don't often have too many AAA guys in the lineup most days (though it's worth noting that with Kendrick out now, two in the lineup is the minimum), but having the bench guys being all AAA matters too. As a club pinch hitters are .148/.279/.164. That should be significantly better if you're getting your pinch hits from Adams, Kendrick, Goodwin, etc. instead of Sierra, Stevenson, and Matt (not Mark) Reynolds (2nd, 3rd, and 4th in PH PAs and a combined 2 for 24), and guys like that. That isn't a huge deal, but it could be worth a win or two, particularly with all the one run games.

JE34 said...

Bring back the stigma and shame of the strikeout!

Is the world still in the dark about the prospective return timelines for Eaton and Murphy? At last report, Eaton was sounding very positive. But with him, I hope it's not like finding and correcting that nagging electrical problem in the 1985 Dodge Aries K... then you get it out on the highway and throw a rod.

Last thing I heard about Murphy was almost a month ago. Am I missing something? Silence is generally bad.

Fries said...


Murphy's been rehabbing in Florida, but he apparently got a nasty stomach bug and has been out of commission for the last week. Not sure if it's really a stomach bug or a setback, but last I saw prior to the stomach bug he was still feeling discomfort in his knee

Harper said...

Andrew - yeah I'm not saying it doesn't matter. I think we can now see why the Nats were universally picked to win. Healthy they'd win 95+. A 7+ game swing (or more - I could be convinced they are a 85 win team having some luck) is HUGE. but the Nats were so good to start and the rotation is still healthy so they should still be a winning team (and therefore beat up on these terrible teams)

JE34 - Eaton said 6 weeks, has looked recently to be ahead of that but let's not put faith in that - 6 weeks would be Jun 21st. Murphy has started playing games in Florida but got the flu or something. He's gotta feel good in FL then do some minor league rehab so a couple weeks is probably the soonest he'll be back. Rizzo said within a month - if nothing goes wrong - so about the same time as Eaton for a deadline

I'll say the 19th for both

PotomacFan said...

Some comfort regarding the trade for Adam Eaton. Here are Lucas Giolito's stats for his start yesterday against the Orioles: 1.1 innings, 6 hits, 3 BB, 7 Earned Runs, ZERO K. His ERA is now 7.53.

For the season, Giolito now has a 1.714 WHIP, with a pathetic 27 K in 49 IP.

Reynaldo Lopez is doing well, though.

ocw5000 said...

So I just went on Fangraphs to poke around because hey it's the Friday before Memorial Day, and I literally did a triple-take-that-can't-be right at this:

Bryce Harper BABIP .198

WTF IS THAT? I filtered for Qualified PAs and it's 5th lowest in baseball, just ahead of everyone's favorite ex-Nat Ian Desmond. Unlike Desmond (24.2%), Bryce is making Soft Contact only 7.6% of the time. That is 2nd lowest soft contact after JD Martinez, who is, como se dice, mashing.

Only thing I can figure is that Bryce is pulling the ball more (45.8%) than the last two years (35.5%, 39.3%), but wait, he last had a pull rate like this in 2015. That was ... a pretty good year for Bryce IIRC.

Then I looked at his rates for 2015 vs 2018. Does anything jump out to you?

(Stat 2015 2018)
Pull% 45.4% 45.8%
Cent% 33.8% 33.6%
Oppo% 20.8% 20.6%
Soft% 11.9% 7.6%
Med% 47.2% 48.9%
Hard% 40.9% 43.5%
BB% 19.0% 20.3%
K% 20.0% 17.5%
ISO 0.319 0.305
LD% 22.2% 22.1%
GB% 38.5% 39.7%
FB% 39.3% 38.2%
BABIP 0.369 0.198

Is it safe to say he's is due for a correction?

JE34 said...

@ocw: using fangraphs hit-type spray charts, and comparing 2015 to 2018, it *looks* like the shift has been effective against him this year.

I mentioned this a few days ago... I firmly believe that hitters must focus on punishing the shift. Laser beam ground outs to right field are still outs.

ocw5000 said...

@JE34 Awesome chart! I need to dig deeper into Fangraphs functionality.

Definitely the shifts are part of it but doesn't explain all the BABIP discrepancy, esp when every other metric is the same or better.

Andrew said...

@JE34. The shift certainly explains some of the discrepancy, but given that Harper is by no means an extreme groundball hitter it seems highly unlikely the shift is basically more effective on him than it is any other hitter. It also looks like he's had terrible luck when he hits against the shift. Just by counting, on the LEFT side it looks like his BABIP is only around .200.

Anonymous said...

Boston DFA’d Hanley Ramirez... I feel like that’s a bat we could use... LF perhaps?

BxJaycobb said...

I don’t agree it’s exactly a totally different problem. Because Martinez if he wanted to could have started platooning Goodwin or they could have called up Robles to give him a chance in CF by now. (They should have given Robles the job out of spring training and kept MAT only as a 4th OF but that’s their mistake over the winter which many of us called before the season started). The poor performance of MAT is what makes the injuries to Goodwin and Robles incredibly important as opposed to just “possibly important.”

BxJaycobb said...

yeah I about was about to say. Lopez looks like a guy who may turn into a front line starter and Dane dunning has looked excellent in the minors. If the trade was only for Giolito, oh yeah. I think we would be in the clear. He looks like a possible bust.

BxJaycobb said...

Yup. People have written about this. It’s an almost impossible statistical anomaly that can’t last. By all accounts Bryce has hit the ball like an absolute animal and should probably hitting about .310/.465

sirc said...

^ Funny.

DezoPenguin said...

@ the last anon: Hanley Ramirez is literally sub-replacement level. He was also sub-replacement level in 2015 and 2017 over full seasons. That's literally three out of the last four years. He can't play any position other than 1B since there's no DH in the National League, and we have a first baseman (Adams) who is actually good at baseball, and two platoon partners (Zim and Reynolds) who are actually playing well (against LHP--obviously Zim stinks this year against RHP).

In good news, the Nats have announced that Murphy and Goodwin will both be starting rehab assignments in Harrisburg over the weekend.

The team is going to have an interesting decision when Goodwin comes back. Juan Soto needs to be playing full-time; he's clearly being positioned as a future franchise cornerstone along with Robles. So if Martinez and Rizzo think he's ready, then he stays as LF and Goodwin becomes OF4, with Stevenson going down to the minors. On the other hand, if Soto isn't deemed ready, he needs to go back down for full-time play, Goodwin becomes LF and Stevenson stays as OF4 (pending further injury or Eaton's return).

Mark said...

I’ve lost track of his strikeouts in the Marlins... the MARLINS series.

Ryan said...

Reynaldo Lopez has not been good, look past the ERA

BxJaycobb said...

Dezo: to me the main question when it comes to Goodwin and Eaton returning is basically: can Juan Soto play CF? Because if he can be decent out there—as prospect evaluators like keith law have said (he’s actually extremely fast if a bit unpolished)—-then the move is you start Soto in CF, and play Eaton in LF once everybody is healthy....platooning Adams and Zim once Zim returns....with MAT and Goodwin on bench with I suppose Difo (and the other part of the Adams/Zim platoon). That makes Reynolds the odd man out I think unfortunately? But I don’t think you can send Soto back down when we have such a need in CF.

BxJaycobb said...

Soto looks ready to me. Guy has as many (more?) extra base hits as Ks.

BxJaycobb said...

Although I also wouldn’t be surprised if him pulling the ball on the ground is worse now than in 2015 because shifting has gone from vaguely noteworthy to routine to every play over last 3 years. He probably collected SOME ground ball hits to right side in 2015.

BxJaycobb said...

When Bryce is striking out a lot it’s not because the opposing pitching is’s usually because he’s in a funk where he’s just not picking up the ball well. And he definitely isn’t. Despite his missile homer today. I will say. It’s pretty insane when you’re leading the league in homers and walks and have like a .385 OBP and everybody thinks you’re struggling (I’m not denying he’s had a frustrating’s just so crazy what frustrating year looks like for Bryce.)

BxJaycobb said...

Hes young and will improve. I don’t mean he’s an actual front line starter now. But I think he could be one in a couple years. He’s been functional as a starting pitcher. Not great but not bad at all.

Grant said...

Harper predicted 93 wins at the start of the season. With all the injuries and slow start, the Nats are on pace for...92 wins. It doesn't seem as comfortable as last year because Atlanta and Philly (and the Mets?) are hanging around, but I'm choosing to look at this as Could Have Been Much Worse. Take 2-3 from Baltimore and don't get swept in ATL and we're in good shape for Murphy, Goodwin and Eaton returning.

Mark said...

On pace for 92 wins with Murphy not playing at all, Eaton, Rendon, Goodwin, Robles, Zimmerman and Weiters not playing much due to injury (or in the case of Zimmerman and Weiters not playing well when they were healthy), Bryce hitting .230, MAT being one of the worst hitters in baseball, 4 games started by someone named Cole and his 13 ERA. Are you kidding me? If you told Harper all of that what would he have predicted?

Harper said...

Well absent of anything else - sure I would have predicted worse

Of course if I had told you... Bryce was leading the league in homers, Matt Adams, splitting time between OF and 1B, was hitting like an MVP, Trea Turner rebounded to above average, Juan Soto would shoot up the minors and be good enough to start for the team in May, Max would be on his way to another Cy Young, Gio and Hellickson would sport ERAs near 2.00, the starters as a whole would lead the NL in ERA and Doolittle would be possibly the best closer in the NL, what would have predicted?

In other words the Nats have had a lot of bad luck offensively, but they've had a little good luck there and they basically had the reverse (a lot of good luck with a little bad luck) pitching wise. Not EXACTLY the reverse but close enough that I wouldn't have looked at the totality of the team and though "Oh .500"

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I would argue there is only one position player on the Nats roster that has performed over their expected stat production (meaning both performance and injuries): Adams. That’s it. (Unless you want to include Reynolds or Soto who have been here for like a week.)
Pitching wise I would say Gio and Hellickson have definitely over-performed. Everybody else (both relievers and starters) have performed either about what is expected or underperforming (e.g. Turner, who is hitting like his career average; Roark, ditto; Max, even better than usual but not by that much; Doolittle, maybe overperforming but not dramatically; Stras, underperformed but not dramatically at all given injury concerns; Harper, underperforming (yes it’s possible to underperform and still lead league in homers and walks—he’s not in top 25 in WAR in MLB).
So I’m impressed they’re basically at top of standings.

BxJaycobb said...

If you make a list of underperformers vs overperformers it’s not remotely close I don’t think. (I think you agree just saying...see below).

Josh Higham said...

@Bx Max is overperforming aggressively. Virtually every projection I saw for him was something like 4 WAR (which would be wonderful for a 34 year old pitcher), but he's out here easily the best pitcher in the NL, with 2.8 WAR (b and f) through two months. The fact that he is great and has been great doesn't invalidate his overperformance. He may continue to dominate, but it does not and will never make sense to project him improving year after year at his age.

Josh Higham said...

33 year old. My mistake, Max. Very sorry. Won't happen again.

W. Patterson said...
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